lost customer

You’re insanely swamped. And, of course, that’s when the phone rings.

So you ignore it.

They’ll call back, you think. Or maybe, right at this moment, you’re too stressed or overwhelmed to care much about what they’re going to do.

But you should.

When a customer calls your business and the phone just rings, and rings (and rings), you’ve potentially lost them for good.

Here’s a little insight into what could be running through that lost customer’s head:

  • Is my call not important enough for them to answer?
  • Are they out of business?
  • Are they shady AF?
  • Should I look them up on the Better Business Bureau?
  • If this is how they treat their customers, I’m going elsewhere.

And yet, the majority of small business owners are ignoring customer phone calls.

I recently called a restaurant to place a pickup order and the phone rang endlessly. I’m sure they were just busy, but I was hungry, and not patient enough to try them again. I placed an order at another restaurant nearby instead.

What’s the lesson here?

If your customers don’t matter enough for you to answer their calls, they’re not going to stick around for long. And it’s pretty foolish to assume they’re going to call back again.

What’s more likely is that they hung up the phone and called your competitor instead.

An unanswered call puts doubt in your customers’ minds toward your credibility — yet the majority of small business owners are still ignoring ringing phones.

Check out these stats from Small Business Trends:

  • 64% of phone calls to small businesses go unanswered
  • 38% get forwarded to voice mail
  • 70% of small businesses answer less than half of the phone calls they receive

Ready for the cold, hard truth?

“If you don’t answer your phone, you don’t deserve to have those customers,” said Rieva Lesonsky, co-presenter of the ‘5 Fabulous Habits of Small Business Champions’ webinar at National Small Business Week.

“You are showing, [through] your phone behavior, what kind of service your customers are going to get,” she continued.

Bottom line? You’ve got to start answering your phone.

Don’t want an unanswered call to turn into a lost customer?

Here’s a few ideas on how you can stop missing phone calls — even when you’re slammed.

  • Even if you’re a one-person show, answering the phone needs to become a priority. Asking a customer to “please hold” is better than letting the phone ring and ring. Or, ask to take their name and number down and tell them you’ll call them right back. (Just make sure you actually do it.)
  • If you’re able to hire an employee, designate answering the phone, including putting people on hold while they help someone else, to be one of their daily tasks so you can focus on other things.
  • Set up voice mail immediately — unless, of course, you’d rather seem unprofessional and shady? You can record your own message that details hours and location, or hire a message on hold company to write the script for you and have it recorded by a voice talent. If a customer calls during your lunch hour or after hours, a professional voice mail message will give the impression that you’re a credible company worth their time, effort, and cash.
  • Consider offering customer-service chat. This could eliminate some phone calls and allow you to simultaneously speak with multiple customers.

But a voice messaging system isn’t enough.

According to TalkRoute.com, 85% of callers who go to voice mail do not leave a message. And the odds aren’t good that they’re going to call again.

  • Use voice mail for after-hour and lunch-hour callers only and be sure to answer a couple of the main questions a customer might have on the message. (This could be exactly what you sell, your business hours, rates for services you offer, physical location if applicable, and your website address.)

Don’t let an unanswered phone call turn into a lost customer. Pick up that phone and show your customers you appreciate their time and patronage.

Speaking with your customers offers a personal touch they can’t get when they Amazon Prime things to their house, so use that to your advantage.

Be friendly, helpful, and happy to hear from them — no matter how stressful of a day it is or what’s actually going on in the background. Your tone, words, and the simple action of either answering that phone call, or letting it ring, can make a world of difference to your customers — and your profit.

An unanswered call = a lost customer. Will you pick up the phone from now on?

This post was originally published on The DRIVE Blog.